Targeted Ages: Best for fourth grade (ages 9 and 10) and up.
Plot: Zed (they/them), a Shakespeare-loving, colorful sweater-wearing, exuberant nonbinary kid teams up with quiet, opera-loving flora enthusiast cis boy Gabe (he/him). Despite Zed and Gabe's seeming lack of common interests, they share a love of The Monster's Castle, an unfinished manuscript about a male vampire and a male werewolf who fall in love, and the related drama.
Together, with the help of Gabe's queer older sister Sam, the oddball trio embark on a hilarious, bumbling road trip to uncover the mysterious manuscript using clues from the few existing chapters.
After their journey gets underway, the threesome experience car troubles and meet tons of interesting individuals. Gabe and Zed even make a game out of whether the next adult they encounter will call Zed a boy or a girl, and the loser has to buy the other one ice cream.
The banter between the three (especially Sam's frustration with Zed insistence on commenting on every situation), Zed's histrionics, and detailed pen and ink drawings of the characters provide a rich, funny story and lovable characters.
Where the book succeeds: Written by a child/parent duo, this illustrated #OwnVoices story is unabashedly queer in a way that flows seamlessly and captures the essence of a quirky queer kid and their new pal. Both Zed and Gabe defy traditional gender expectations in their behavior and interests, and along the road trip, they encounter a trans woman named Jennie who owns a restaurant. In addition, Gabe's sister, cis college woman Sam, is a tough, athletic geology major who reconnects with a Black androgynous car mechanic friend named Jo, and the two develop a sweet romantic relationship. The few conversations about Zed's gender are used to further the plot and feel realistic and heartfelt.
Content warning: Toward the end of the book, a villainous character corners the kids while holding a crowbar, but there is no actual violence.